Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 30, 2010
New Franciscans break the mold
Non-conformist finds fulfillment with his new family
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Dressed in a brown robe and sandals, Jean-Pierre Ducharme talks with ease about making a lifelong commitment to live as a Franciscan friar.
"There's always a certain amount of freedom that comes with commitment. It's going to be nice to be in a position where I know where I'm going to be for the rest of my life at least in the sense of who I am," said Ducharme.
For the past three years he's made temporary vows with the Franciscan Friars of Western Canada. But on Aug. 20 at St. Mary's Parish in Cochrane, he made his final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with the brotherhood.
As Franciscan friars "we're so rooted in the Gospel. It's the kind of commitment that stands the test of time. It's the kind of thing that can be of relevance in every generation and I don't think there's anything more beautiful than a person who lives out their life authentically," said Ducharme.
Giving up the freedom of having personal possessions has been at times a challenge for Ducharme, but well worthwhile.
"We talk about being poor, but when you live in community and you have all the support that goes along with being a member of a fraternity, it's really hard to see oneself as poor.
"It comes down to imitating Christ and having poverty of self, so giving of oneself," said Ducharme, sitting at the kitchen table at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane less than a week before his solemn profession of vows.
PASSION FOR YOUTH MINISTRY
It is here at the retreat centre that Ducharme will live for the coming year while helping the order with vocation ministry and working at St. Mary's Parish as a deacon once he is ordained in Edmonton on Sept. 11.
Ultimately, he feels called to the priesthood, but he doesn't know where exactly that will lead him. Currently, his passion is to work with youth doing campus ministry.
The decision to join a religious order, however, did not happen overnight for Ducharme. Raised the ninth of 11 children in a Catholic family in Coquitlam, B.C., he has always looked for a way to stand out.
"I've always been a seeker and wanted to be countercultural," said Ducharme. "Maybe that comes from being part of a big family and trying to find my place."
After graduating high school he worked odd jobs in construction and the service industry until he decided to try his hand at an acting academy in Pasadena, Calif. When that didn't pan out, he returned to Canada and enrolled in a bachelor of arts program at the University of British Columbia at age 22. It was during that time he first thought he might be called to religious life.
"My attitude has always been 'I am free. I don't have to do what everybody else wants or I don't have to conform to society or any system or community.' But along the way there have been things that have pushed me to be responsible and to at least try to live a life of integrity," said Ducharme.
One big turning point was in his early 20s when his girlfriend dumped him.
"When I discovered my own vulnerability I became more sensitive to it in others and through that experience and several others I really searched for meaning in life."
After he completed his bachelor's degree at 26, he moved to Edmonton to study for his master of divinity in hopes of doing ministry as a layperson. It was at Newman Theological College where he first encountered the Franciscans who teach there. Through their example, two years later he entered a five-year formation program to become a friar.
Ducharme was attracted to religious life and the Franciscan Friars of Western Canada in large part due to the fellowship he's experienced.
CALLED TO COMMUNITY
"I like being with the guys; I like the fact that I can be a member of a community and do ministry that I wouldn't be able to do as a married person, as a layperson. I saw a certain freedom in not having children, a certain release from a lot of the stresses that married people have," said Ducharme.
"At this point I couldn't think of doing anything else," he said. "I know that I am here because of the wonderful life I was born into. I came from a very loving family, I've experienced a lot of love, joy and happiness in my life and maybe it left me innocent to the negative perceptions of the Church and this way of life."
His mother Darlene's insistence that faith was the only thing important to her has contributed to his lifelong religious convictions. His father Roger modelled for him the virtues of commitment, determination and a desire to be intentional about life.
"We both lost it. It was very moving for us. We're just very happy for him. It's a big commitment he's made and he's happy," Darlene said upon reflection after the ceremony.
His two parents, eight of his 10 married siblings and several of his 35 nieces and nephews came to witness him commit his life to the 800-year-old Franciscan order founded by St. Francis of Assisi.
"A sense of belonging is important and there is a sense of security I get from knowing I belong," said Ducharme. "I come from a big family so that might be part of it. The Franciscans are a family. It's like I've left one family and moved into another."
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